Kora - the instrument

Bakeba Konte
Brikama, Gambia
The Kora is a Westafrican harp of the family of bridge harps or harp-lutes.

It's the highest developped string instrument of Africa.
The construction of the instrument as well as the music are unique in the world.

Jali Meseng Cissokho
Ziguinchor, Casamance, Senegal
The Kora is found in all Mande cultures.
It is played by the Mandinka in Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau,
the Malinke or Maninka in Guinée,
the Bambara or Bamana in Mali
and the Dioula in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
Though, it's Gambia and Casamance (South Senegal)
where it has the greatest importance for social life.

The Kora has a centuries-old tradition
and has been played at royal courts,
where the musicians and griots belonged to the personnel.

The Kora was mentioned 1799 for the first time in literature by Mungo Park (Scotland)
in Travels in the interior districts of West Africa as korri.

Lamin Cissokho
Cap Skirring, Casamance, Senegal
The Kora has a big hemispherical body, a long neck
and two planes with left 11 and right 10 strings
running in notches at the sides of an upright mounted bridge.

Jali Meseng Cissokho
Ziguinchor, Casamance, Senegal
The playing style resembles the finger picking blues guitar,
the placement of the strings allows for the playing of chords and harmonies and fast melodic runs.

Prête Bénédictin Dominique Catta
inventory at Keur Moussa, Monastery 50km Dakar, Senegal
for a "Kora à cles" guitar-style machine screws 1970

Ballaké Sissoko & Madou Sidiki Diabaté
Europe -> Bamako, Mali
prices in Europe (i.e. www.korakaelig.fr) may vary from 500€ to more than 1500€ Kora

in Gambia, Casamance or Guinea Bissau you may get one for 100€ Kora or even less

try to get a Kora from a musician or instrument maker rather than from a shop,
as they can play it for you to hear if it sounds ok

Harald Loquenz
Galissa Kunda, Gabú, Guinea Bissau

  • tuning rings must fit tightly but still be moveable,

  • bridge must be in the middle in between the two handles with enough space for your fingers to reach each string easily,

  • string notches in the bridge must be sufficiantly apart so that the deep strings don't touch the neighbor strings when being played,

  • highest strings must not touch the edge of the calabash

  • construction of all parts of the instrument must be stable and symmetrical

  • hide must fit the calabash very tightly like a drum skin

  • sound must be very nice of course !!!